Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, several parents have raised concerns over not being able to visit hospitals to get their children vaccinated. They fear that the lack of routine immunisations for children could result in other diseases.
A recent report by the World Health Organisations (WHO) showed that upto 80 million children under the age of one year around the world are missing out on essential vaccines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been putting an increased number of children at the risk of contracting preventable diseases such as measles, diphtheria and polio.So what can parents do to ensure their children get their routine vaccinations while staying safe?
â€śAll major health organisations and experts have stated that it is important to not postpone vaccines and get them done on time,â€ť said Dr Vikas Satwik, a consultant neonatologist and paediatrician at Motherhood Hospitals in Bengaluru. That being said, there are some things that a person can do to stay safe during the pandemic, such as pre-booking appointments.
â€śMost hospitals have resumed vaccinations for young children as per their earlier schedules. People can call in advance to find out if the hospital is offering immunisation on any particular day or if they need to visit at a particular date,â€ť said Chennai-based paediatrician Dr Rakesh Kothari, stressing that it is important to take certain precautions when visiting hospitals for vaccination.
Dr Vikas further explained why parents should not just walk in for consultations or vaccinations. â€śPhysical distancing measures are being taken seriously across the globe. If a waiting room has capacity only for four people, it will cause overcrowding if someone walks in, without making an appointment. When you pre-book, you will also be able to discuss the specific vaccinations required with the doctor. This will make the process easier when you do arrive in the hospital,â€ť he said.
While many have raised concerns whether it is safe to visit a hospital during this pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has clarified that vaccinations are best done at a maternity hospital as they are not designated COVID centres and largely handle deliveries and immunisations. And so the exposure to COVID-19 is less, added Dr Vikas.
Both the doctors advised that only one parent and the child must visit the hospital at a time and wear masks.
â€śChildren under the age of 2 years do not require a mask. This has been suggested by the American Pediatric Association as well, as we have found that this causes more problems than proving to be beneficial in young children,â€ť explained Dr Vikas.
Most vaccinations are done in the doctorâ€™s examination room, which is usually open-air, the examination bed sheets are regularly cleaned and disinfected and all basic precautions are taken routinely. On leaving the hospital, the parent and child should sanitise their hands as a safety measure.
Why itâ€™s important to administer vaccines on time
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the WHO stated that the pandemic was causing significant discrepancies in vaccine-preventable diseases.
â€śImmunisation is one of the most powerful and fundamental disease prevention tools in the history of public health. Disruption to immunisation programmes due to the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to unwind decades of progress against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles,â€ť he said.
Doctors have also advised that specific vaccines that cannot be delayed and must be given priority have to be administered. There are several harms and complications that can arise if vaccines are not given on time, says Dr Vikas.
â€śFor example, measles is an easily preventable contagious disease, with the use of a vaccine. If a child skips this vaccine and ends up getting measles, the chance of it spreading to other children increases. With the current situation, we cannot handle an outbreak of another disease, especially not one that can be easily prevented by vaccination. It will create a mess and saddle the healthcare system with another disease,â€ť he explained, adding, â€śAvoid hospitals that are designated COVID-care centres. If possible, go to a maternity and childcare hospital in specific and take the basic measures.â€ť